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WILL VERBAL BOMBS LOBBED BY GINGRICH HELP OR HURT CLINTON?

SHARE WILL VERBAL BOMBS LOBBED BY GINGRICH HELP OR HURT CLINTON?

The verbal bombs being lobbed by incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other Republicans may be a blessing in disguise for President Clinton. Or a two-year nightmare. The jury's still out. And both sides are a little nervous about the verdict.

Clinton defenders hope salvos like Gingrich's unsubstantiated assertion that one-fourth of the White House staff once had used illegal drugs will backfire - and cause sympathy for Clinton.Those, and statements from Sen. Jesse Helms, can only work to the president's advantage in the long run, these voices suggest.

But Gingrich allies - and suddenly there are many - contend he is only raising legitimate concerns that need to be aired, despite what his talk show-host assertiveness may lack in grace and finesse.

At the same time, an undercurrent of anxiety clearly runs just beneath the surface - a concern that Gingrich could cross the line and go too far.

Incoming Rep. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma is one of a handful of GOP candidates who refused to sign Gingrich's "Contract With America."

Coburn said Gingrich could be a liability in districts like his where there are a lot of Democratic and independent voters. Coborn said he wants to be viewed by constituents as "an independent thinker."